At night the cafes dotted along Amman’s Rainbow Street bloom with fruited tobacco from burning sheeshas. I hail a cab to take me across the city. I’m in search of the perfect humus. At the hotel’s recommendation, last night they sent me to an upscale Lebanese restaurant where my waiter boasted, “We have the best humus in Jordan.” Admittedly, had I been back at the Kempinski, I would have spread that dip all over my naked body and danced around the moonlit room to the mysterious and undulating prayer calls echoing through the walls.
In pursuit of my “humus challenge,” I have acquired another name of a restaurant. It is scribbled in Arabic on the back of Starbuck’s receipt where I had fresh-squeezed orange juice at Mecca Mall earlier in the day. This, too, was a whimsical indulgence after successfully replacing the pair of swimming goggles I left-behind at a Crowne Plaza in Changsha, China.
My taxi driver speeds and smokes while pointing to innocuous store fronts, roads and buildings out both windows, meticulously naming each one as if doing so makes them somehow significant: the Al Shabib Apartment Complex, the Fifth Circle Road, Hardees, Grill Nassar, Chili’s, Arab Jordan Bank, H2O Disco, “the California University,” Popeyes, Cafe Naijar, the Sixth Circle Road, Fuddruckers, the Sheraton. He goes on like this for 20 minutes until he plops me off at a night cafeteria.
A departure from the sedated, gardened terrace from the night before, tonight’s establishment is teaming with chatter and the din from glasses of mint tea clattering against saucers. The florescent tubes above burn an unnecessary brightness into an otherwise under-lit city. Gaggles of elegantly turbaned men huddle up and down the rows of lunchroom tables and talk intently. I press between other patrons and against the deli’s glass partition vying for a view of the items on display, beyond which are layers deep with platters of mezza. I shout my order over the counter, and a characteristically stout chef draped in butcher whites scribbles on a square of paper and chucks it back.
I cue up at a booth and present the scrap and pay. The attendant stamps the paper and hands it back semi-signaling to take a seat. I sit down and two waiters quickly descend, one pouring scalding water into a double shot glass filled with mint leaves and a sugar cube. The other takes the stamped order.
Life is a sequence of constant interruptions, allowing rarely more than the briefest encounters in the moment. I think of my wife and son and how far away they are.
Enter the humus. Another waiter bearing a basket of hot pitas drops three pieces onto a plate and hurries off. The tea waiter refills my glass. I tear the bread and dip in: chicpea heaven. This is as good as it gets, for at least for this moment.
In the weeks that followed teaching at Mr. Yang’s school, it soon became apparent that he had a penchant for drugs. And he wasn’t discriminating, gobbling into his pie hole the rainbow’s spectrum from hash to heroin. But his poison of choice was Chinese ecstasy, or “head shaking fun” as it translates. For what these multicolored tablets lacked in MDMA they compensated for in amphetamines, rendering Principal Yang throughout the day both pasty and agitated and constantly grinding his teeth.
Another treasured side effect of the “head shaking fun” was an unending battle with impotence. This became particularly tiresome as hookers and drugs are as inseparable as chopsticks from rice. On one occasion Mr. Yang called me to his apartment in the middle of the night. One of the whores let me in and led me through the haze and din to an open bathroom where Mr. Yang was naked and leaning over the toilet. With the full weight of his torso pressed against the porcelain bowl as if body surfing, another prosi was crouched on the cold tiles and sodomizing him with a condom wrapped around her fore and middle fingers. Like a deer caught in headlights, Mr. Yang gormlessly peered up at me with his tinted glasses.
Mr. Yang tried to counter the impotence by munching imitation Chinese Viagra. He chomped them by the fistful like candy pez, reeling through the classrooms by day with a sustained and shriveled erection, but come the witching hour was still annoyingly unable to perform. This proved particularly irksome for his then girlfriend, a homely, overweight student turned school receptionist who had relocated from the countryside to Mr. Yang’s lair of vices.
One afternoon after classes Mr. Yang confided he had a problem to discuss, and he clawed me into the privacy of his office jittering and smacking his lips. His girlfriend had become testy with all his shenanigans, so he had reasoned were she more sexually gratified that this would give him the necessary license to continue on his rampage. His proposition was to pay me to fuck her, and he offered the confines of his office as a convenience. My dumbfounded reaction must have triggered this notion to be out of the question. But unwavering in his determination, he proceeded negotiating fellatio in place of intercourse. Upon again not being up to the bargain, Mr. Yang raised his price to $150 pleading, “Won’t you just please let her suck your cock.” After my sustained reluctance the bid became $200. By this point the mere idea was so outlandish that I almost relented, though in the end I never did let him pay me to have his girlfriend suck me off.
Mr. Yang’s trajectory soon went on a tailspin. One night during another ecstasy fueled orgy I peered into a room to find him tripping his nuts off while a hooker administered a clear bag of liquid into his arm through an IV. I did a double take not only due to the severity of what I was witnessing but also because it was the first time I saw Mr. Yang without glasses. His eyes were small blackened nuggets, and he gazed at me momentarily without reserve.
The last time I saw Mr. Yang was after he phoned to summon me to the Sheraton Hotel. I was with another foreigner at the time but he said it was okay for both of us to come. On the second floor lounge were seated the same group of men I had seen at the bathhouse nearly a year before. Mr. Yang offered us drinks and we all sat around quite civilly on the open sofas. I soon noticed while talking with my friend that everyone else was uncomfortably yet intently watching us. I pointed this out to my companion in a way they wouldn’t catch on, and we pretended not to take notice while continuing to be engaged in over-animated conversation. It was then I realized they were making sure we weren’t listening. Mr. Yang quietly told one of the men they could have his car, to which another man laughed, and after again glancing in our direction to check our ears, said that they had plenty of cars and didn’t need anymore. Mr. Yang also shifted his gaze upon us, though I told my friend not to break from our feigned chatter, which by now we had convincingly managed to disassociate from theirs. Mr. Yang offered the men his apartment, and one of them sighed with disappointment and said they already had enough apartments too. I was witnessing a mafia shakedown. Mr. Yang had obviously borrowed money to start his school from these men, from his childhood friends turned gangsters, and he was now being asked to pay the piper. Mr. Yang had called me to the hotel, to a public place, which in his mind must have somehow ensured his safety were things to get out of hand. After all, nothing defused an uncomfortable tension better than a pair of dumb foreigners.
A few days later I went to teach a class and learned that the school had closed. Mr. Yang had fled the country. One of the staff surmised he had gone back to Canada. His girlfriend was also gone, having presumably legged it back to the countryside. I never saw Mr. Yang again. He owed me $200 in unpaid lessons.
The first time I met Mr. Yang was at the Traders Hotel in Shenyang. He got my number from someone, I either can’t remember who or he never told me. He called one night to meet for drinks and ask me to teach part time at his English school. This was in winter of 2000 when there weren’t many foreigners in the city, so a call of this type wasn’t out of the norm. Besides, I only lived a ten-minute walk away and figured why not knock back a couple.
We chatted for maybe an hour over a few pints of exorbitantly priced Fosters, he sizing me up more than I did him. From behind his oversized tinted glasses, which he still wore despite the pub’s lighting, I remember his beaming white grin exhaling through wisps of chain-smoked cigarettes. He was otherwise unintentionally dull. He was also not notable to look at, unapologetically attired in a bleached polo shirt and adorning an ostentatious watch. He might have told me he was a Canadian national, or maybe I learned those details later. But he had returned to his hometown of Shenyang to start a school, and left behind his wife and their teenage son both in Calgary.
The second time we met might have been a couple of weeks later. He again telephoned. This time he told me to call him back after I got into a cab so he could give the driver directions. Twenty minutes after exiting the taxi I was met outside the dingy entranceway to a bathhouse. Once upstairs, Mr. Yang led me to a private carpeted room. It was disproportionately large for accommodating the sofas and coffee table, around which four or five men lounged smoking cigarettes and supping tea. Mr. Yang introduced them as childhood friends. Two had just returned from several years doing business in Bulgaria, though it was never made clear what they did there exactly. They were either dressed in loose bathrobes or shirtless, and they grunted at me out of obligatory convention as I sat down.
Soon after two sauna prostitutes entered. One was prettier than the other, but they were both in a good mood. Mr. Yang said we would play a fucking game to see who could cum the fastest. He asked me to be the first to go, instructing me to strip down and commence. Tampering surprise tinged with indignation, I was forced to spell out how he couldn’t possibly expect a total stranger, and a foreigner on top of that, to willingly accept and lead the charge. One of the other patrons, a pot-bellied man with a darker, peasant-like complexion and nondescript prison tattoos etched into his forearms, ordered Mr. Yang to be the first. The less pretty of the girls had by then deciphered the plan to have a speed “whorgy,” and not willing to partake she quickly made an exit from the room unhindered apart from a flurry of chuckles. The prettier girl, however, was more than willing and undressed while giggling.
Mr. Yang sprang up onto his seat and while standing on the sofa keenly took off all his clothes. It was shocking and ridiculous, this middle-aged educator atop a cushioned pedestal displayed naked apart from his black socks and tinted glasses. The prostitute then joined him and he then methodically mounted her and immediately after began thrusting. His thighs forcibly slapped against hers and sounded throughout the room. They soon moved to the floor and continued in spacious, carpeted comfort. One of the other men drew his robe and stuck himself into her mouth, and the three of them hummed and hawed in abandon until Mr. Yang came to a spastic halt while still inside her. The other people in the room laughed and weakly applauded.